40-40 Politics 2
With all the municipalities done, the 40-40 (or 140-140) prognosis of Bangladesh politics is still holding. Three points need to be made.
First, a puzzle. While BNP has done very well across the country, it did poorly in the areas it was expected to do well. In the municipal elections, BNP lost in greater Noakhali, a region where it won a majority of seats even in December 2008. And in the just concluded by-elections, while BNP won the Habiganj seat where AL won every election since 1970, it badly lost Brahmanbaria where it was expected to put in at least a competitive showing given past election results. What’s going on?
One hypothesis, articulated by Rumi bhai, is that AL might have allowed free elections where it believed BNP was weak (as in Habiganj), concentrating its firepower in Noakhali-Brahmanbaria. If that’s the case, then the poll results inflate AL’s support, and BNP has done even better than what appears to be the case.
Second, if we are indeed in a world where both major parties command roughly 40% of popular support, then the smaller parties will again punch above their weight. This might seem counterintuitive. After all, Jatiya Party just got thrashed, and Jamaat was shunned by BNP in these polls. But if both parties are locked in at 40%, the race will be on to get the support of the remaining 20% of the electorate.
Third, if the 40-40 politics end up being a 50-50 politics (that is, if the remaining 20% are also evenly captured by the two sides through alliance), then we are heading for an unprecedented political uncertainty. Going all the way back to the 1930s, our politics have been characterised by the clear dominance of one political faction or another — the possible exception being the early to mid 1990s, where various parties vied for dominance. We have never had a period where the country was evenly split. Will our republic be able to handle such polarisation